If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.
A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.
However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.
This is a very interesting debut fantasy novel. Turner has taken many familiar and popular fantasy elements and made them his own: lots of magic, warring nations, a handful of questing fellowships, and an item of incredible power. What sets When the Heavens Fall apart, though, is that the power in this world lies in death magic. As a result, it’s a pretty dark, gothic tale and world. It is also an extremely strong debut.
The novel follows four main protagonists. In order of my preferred characters: Luker, a bitter former Guardian who is coerced into tracking down the Book for the emperor. There is Parolla, whose nature at first is shrouded in mystery (when we finally learn of who she is, it’s pretty big and well-done); her agenda is not to seek the Book, but rather Shroud, to address an old wrong. Ebon, heir to the throne, must deal with a visiting consul from an expansionist, potential enemy nation, while simultaneously struggling to maintain his sanity as the spirits reawaken. Finally, there’s high priestess Romany, who has the most access to Mayot, who stole the Book – and who also has a rather antagonistic relationship with her goddess, the Spider.
Each of these characters has their own agenda, not always that stated. Each also has their own obstacles to overcome, secrets to protect, hidden desires and goals, and upcoming challenges. They also all have their own distinct characters and voices, which made for an interesting and engaging novel.
A lot happens in the novel, and Turner has managed to pack in an awful lot of information, action, and world-building. It’s not a slim book, but we still get a very complete look at the world and some of the factions at play — the author manages to avoid info-dumping, and the information we need to flesh out our understanding of a faction, character, or what-/whoever is well-written.
I had just a couple of issues with the novel, but they are minor. At times the momentum dips. This is probably a result of Turner trying (not unwisely) to give all four POV characters and setting equal time — this means the story can switch up a bit too quickly. This latter niggle is more prominent at the start, which is perhaps understandable. The only other thing that didn’t work for me were the occasional different dialects — whether the archaic speech of the Gorlem (far too many “thees”, “thous” and “thys” for my taste), or Parolla’s tendency to refer to others as “sirrah”. I don’t know why, but whenever an author does this for just one or two characters, it feels like every sentence of their speech is written specifically to incorporate these vocal mannerisms and dialect choices. (See also, for example, Peter V. Brett’s latest novel, which seems to contain altogether too many “ents”…)
I love the deathly aspects of the novel — from the author’s take on the undead and necromancy (the reanimated retain some elements of their personalities, for example, but are nevertheless slave to the orders and whims of those who command them). Parolla’s experiences in the demon dimensions (not the word Turner uses for them, but I couldn’t help use them — it’s more like a demon-infested purgatory) are deliciously dark, too. I also really liked the dynamic between Romany and the Spider — I’ve always been drawn to the idea of devotees having antagonistic and difficult relationships with their deities. The magic, while frequently deployed, is interesting and complex without being overly complicated. The political intrigue is well-written. The story progresses well, and I enjoyed spending time with each of the protagonists and their companions (and enemies).
Overall, When the Heavens Fall is a very strong start to a new, gothic sword and sorcery series. I have a feeling this is going to be a hit with fantasy fans of all types. Definitely recommended. I’m very much looking forward to the next novel, Dragon Hunters.
Marc Turner‘s When the Heavens Fall is published by Tor Books in the US, on May 19th, 2015; and Titan Books in the UK, on May 22nd, 2015. For more on Marc’s writing and novels, be sure to check back tomorrow for an interview, and follow him on Twitter, Goodreads and check out his website.